The dark and dangerous threat of Zoom works better than it should, precisely because it's set against the generally happy tone of this show.
The FlashAirtime: Tuesdays, 8 pm
Cast: Teddy Sears, Tom Cavanagh, Grant Gustin, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 18 - "Versus Zoom"
Air date: 2016-04-20
For all of its sunny charm, quick wit, and eager embrace of Silver Age-style comic book tropes and plotlines, The Flash is often at its very best when a bit of darkness is thrown into the mix. "Versus Zoom" is a fine example of this. It was previously revealed that former Team Flash member Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) is actually the dark and sinister Zoom, the evil speedster from Earth-2 who has plagued Flash and friends all season long. This episode reveals even more about the villain, including his real identity as a notorious serial killer transformed by Harrison Wells' (Tom Cavanagh) science-gone-awry into a super-villain.
The episode presents a parallel between the lives of Zoom and Barry (Grant Gustin). Barry's father was falsely accused of his mother's murder and taken to jail. Barry, fortunately, was taken into a loving home and raised by Joe (Jesse. L. Martin). Zoom, whose real name is revealed to be Hunter Zolomon, had a similar but different path. In his case, his father really did murder his mother and the young Hunter was sent to live in an uncaring orphanage. Barry, of course, grew up to be a police scientist and a superhero. Hunter grew up to be a serial killer and super-villain.
Flash and Zoom are brought back into conflict when Barry convinces Cisco (Carlos Valdes) to experiment with his vibe powers in order to open a portal to Earth-2, where Zoom continues his reign of terror. His speed enhanced by new technology, the Flash believes that he is finally ready to face the villain again. Sure enough, when Zoom comes through the portal, the Flash proves that he is faster than his black clad alter-ego.
The conflict between the two speedsters is fun to watch. For a television budget, The Flash does a great job with special effects. It never fails to be exciting to see the Scarlet Speedster zoom around Central City, racing up and down streets like a bolt of lightning. For a guy who grew up watching The Six Million Dollar Man illustrate the hero's speed by having him run in slow motion, seeing the Flash run is a thrill. The Flash's speed effects aren’t as cool as Quicksilver's (Evan Peters) in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but they're better than the other Quicksilver's (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) from Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Of course, it’s something of a let-down when Zoom finally stands unmasked. There was no way that Teddy Sears could ever look as imposing as the leather-faced demon that’s been haunting the series all season. Sears does make it work, however, and makes Hunter Zolomon suitably menacing. When he manages to outsmart the good guys and free himself from their trap, he ups the ante pretty quickly, and the end result is devastating for the Flash.
"Versus Zoom" is another good episode for this impressive series. The dark and dangerous threat of Zoom works better than it should, precisely because it is set against the generally happy tone of this show. Shadows need the light, I suppose.
I think that this is why some of the best comic books have been those with darker takes on usually sunny characters. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns immediately comes to mind, as does Alan Moore's and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke. Both work so well because they do dark and unexpected things with comic book characters that had traditionally been immune from such turns. Adam West's grinning version of Batman was still fresh on everyone's mind when those stories brought a level of maturity to the character that had seldom been seen before.
The problem with the dark and gritty version of comic book superheroes, perhaps best illustrated by the work of Miller and Moore, is that the dark take then became the most prominent version of the characters. For a decade or more, all comics were suddenly dark and serious. What worked as a counter-point to the four-color exuberance of traditional superhero storytelling, turned out to be a disaster on its own. (See the lumbering and self-serious Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a prime example.)
The Flash, however, is so far getting it just right. Zoom races in shadows, but he’s racing against a happy hero in fiery yellow and red.